I am back! Here is a short Chapter 20!
Coach Malone’s loud whistle put an end to Jon’s suffering. Jon finished the laps with Stan by his side encouraging him all the way. After a total of 5 laps, or just over one and a half miles, Jon’s legs could not handle any more. He could barely believe that this was just the beginning of the day and he had several more hours of practice to go before he could lay in his wonderfully comfortable bed.
“Tired already, Page?” Coach asked as Jon slowly made his way into the warm and rank gym.
“I just need a few moments to recover, then I’ll be back as good as new.”
“You haven’t been as good as new since you came out of your momma.”
“Least I’m not a product of inbreeding.” Jon muttered.
Coach fumed. “What the hell did you just say?”
Jon just shook his head.
“If I could make you run fifteen more laps, Mr. Page, I would, but we have something a little more important than that right now.” Coach blew his whistle 3 loud and strong times. “I want to introduce everybody to my friend, Pat.” Coach motioned to Pat who nodded toward the team. “I have sent him over to Cottonwood the last few days and he has taken some practice film of the Colts, and, more importantly, of Junior. We will be watching these films and dissecting them and getting the play rundown and figure out how we can stop them on Saturday.”
Jon noticed Nicolas come out of the locker room with a smirk on his face. Nicolas then joined the rest of the team listening to Coach.
“The media pressure will be on us, gentlemen. In fact, just this very morning, Mr. Page was nice enough to invite the enemy into our camp.”
Jon nudged Stan. “Enemy?” Stan waved off the question.
“So, the media is here in town. I would prefer that no one except me speak to the girl who is doing the leg work here this week. They are all here for Junior anyway. He is the only thing that anybody in this entire country cares about. As long as he puts us to shame, everybody will be happy.” Coach stood with his arms folded and looked at his players. “Everyone?”
Jon jumped, as the rest of the team yelled, “No!”
“Who won’t be happy?”
“You won’t, sir!” the team yelled.
Jon felt as if he were in a Leni Riefenstahl film or, at the very least, boot camp.
“And?” Coach prompted.
“We won’t be happy, sir!”
“Good! You better not be! We are a better team than they are! We are a stronger team than they are! We are a smarter team than they are! We will not let them beat us by that sixteen-point spread that they are favored by! We will stick it to them and we will win!”
A loud whooping came from the team. Jon glanced at Stan who was much less enthusiastic as the rest of the team. Nicolas, on the other hand, seemed to be part of the machismo of the group.
Coach continued his rousing speech. “Cottonwood is going to be playing Junior as much as they can! We want to shut him down! We want him to foul out! We want to take him out of the game as early as we can, so that the hoopla is gone and we can just play our best game and win! How will we be able to do that? By knowing their moves, gentlemen. It’s as simple as that. By knowing their moves. Everyone into the weight room and face the east wall. The TV is already set up in there and we will watch what surprises they have in store for us!”
The team thundered through the gym headed to the weight room. Nicolas hung back a little, but Stan and Jon were the last two to start heading toward their own private theater.
Coach Malone came up behind Jon.
“You think you’re a bright funny guy, don’t you?”
Jon just tilted his head in response.
“I know you do,’ Coach continued. “I have my eye on you, and if you mess up one more time, you will be off the team, girlfriend or no.”
“Is that an offer, Coach?”
Jon could feel the slow burn of Coach start to rise. Stan continued up the hallway several feet before he realized that Jon had stopped and had turned to face Coach Malone.
“You accepted me as a player on the team, Coach. Get used to it. It doesn’t matter if you like me or not. I’m a player and I will play on Saturday. That’s just all there is to it.”
“Is that a threat?” Malone growled.
“No threat, Coach. I could say that it was a promise, but that would just be too cliché. Instead I think I’ll just stick with calling it a fact.”
“Mr. Mills, Page, whatever the hell you’re your name is, listen to me and listen to me good. I am the Coach of this team and I will decide-“
“What? What will you decide? I’ve only seen the two of you together for a moment, but I am already quite sure that you can’t do anything that Mr. Hreinson doesn’t decide. He’s pulling the strings. And I will still play whether he coaches me on Saturday or whether he coaches me through you. I am helping the team. I am a player. I will play. It’s just like verb conjugation, Coach. Get used to it.” Jon stared down Malone, who had no response.
Jon turned to catch up with Stan but thought better of it and turned to face Malone again. “By the way, if I see or hear you giving Natalie Hurley or anyone else from any of the reporting teams shit during the next couple of days, that will be noted and taken straight to Mr. Cannon who wants us to play nice with everyone. Do I make myself clear?”
Malone was ready to explode with anger, but he reined it in. “When did you become so confrontational?”
“I guess you bring out the worst in me.” With that, Mills did turn back and join up with Stan. Coach Malone watched as the two of them turned into the weight room.
Pat Hreinson came up the hall and stood next to Coach Malone.
“I can’t believe you said that!” Stan gave Jon a slap on the back as they took their seats near the back of the already full room.
“The man is a bully, Stan. That’s not right.”
“It may not be right, but that is how sports teams have been coached since the beginning of time. That’s how things are done.”
“I’m not a big fan of just accepting how things are done. You know that. Drama geeks, like me, are not known for conforming. I hate the fact that teachers know more than us just because they have the big desk at the front, or because they have the whistle. Mrs. Perry is a testament to that! She is a glorified babysitter who wouldn’t know great literature if it was handed to her on a silver platter! And this guy? Come on! Just because he’s called Coach I have to respect him as a coach even if he weighs four thousand pounds, never runs, and smokes and drinks Coke for every meal?”
“Even so, are you sure that was a good idea to tell him off like that? Kate can help you out, but you can still be kicked off the team for insubordination.”
“He won’t kick me off the team. He doesn’t dare. There’s too much riding on this.”
Moss was near the front of the room but kept glancing back at Jon.
“So, can I ask you a question, Stan?”
“Why do seemingly intelligent people turn into complete buffoons when a man with the first name of Coach gets in front of them and starts saying a speech that sounds like it came from a Dick and Jane book?”
Stan pondered the question, and then shrugged his shoulders. “I guess I already summed it up the best way I can. That’s how things are done.”
“Fair enough. So answer me this. Why do you do it?”
Stan smiled. “Because that’s how things are done.”
Moss kept glancing back at Jon, pretending to watch the door.
“I guess there are just things that as a society we are told we should do. Men have to be manly and like sports and have certain macho qualities.”
“But you don’t play basketball because it’s expected of you. I’ve known you forever. You play because you like it.”
“Yes I do.”
“So why put up with the stupid shit?”
“Because that’s how things are done. How often do I go to the team parties? Rarely. But, to be part of the group and part of the team, you have to be on each other’s side. You have to know that the other player wants the same thing you do and that he will follow through with what’s best for the team. That’s why the grand standing players may be great point wise, but their team almost always hates them. There’s a reason this is a team sport and games of one-on-one are not televised.”
“So, let me get this straight. If you don’t cheer and clap along with Malone’s speech, the other guys may not trust you on the court enough to pass you the ball?”
“In a nutshell.”
“How insane is that?”
“Again, that’s how things are done. But, think about it. You and Nicolas had a blowup a half hour ago. Now, there is some strange feeling between you two. He keeps looking back here, pretending he’s not looking at you, which he clearly is, and, I would be willing to bet that if you two are paired up either with or against each other later today, both of your games will be off. I’ve seen it happen.”
“Because we no longer feel as one as part of the team?”
“You learn quick.” Stan stopped the conversation and watched Nicolas Moss make several more glances towards them. “Jon, don’t you ever feel like you want to be part of a group?”
“What do you mean? I am part of a group.”
Stan lowered his voice. “Part of a secret government agency that nobody knows about is not being part of a group.”
“Okay, apart from that, I am part of the drama geek group.”
“No, you’re not. You’ve told me about what you do at the tournaments, Jon. You go and perform, and then you hang out by yourself in between rounds and at the awards ceremonies. That’s not part of a group.”
“I’m in plays. We have to trust each other on stage as much as you guys have to trust each other out on the court. Drama people are known for being one of two ways. They either always hang out together and go to the bathroom in groups or they are known for being extreme loners who are good at what they do, and therefore, it doesn’t matter if they conform. Drama people are not known for being the most conforming individuals out there.”
“So, if you’re not a part of that group, then, what are you a part of? You weren’t even a part of the scouting program!”
“I told you before, scouting wasn’t for me!”
“Because you don’t like the group mentality. That’s what it comes down to, Jon. You’re just not one for the group mentality.”
“You would always come back with these horror stories about scout camps how the first timers always had to stick their hands in cans full of shit and they had to eat gross disgusting things just to be initiated. How stupid is that mentality?”
“Again, Jon, that’s how things are done. To be a part of a group, you have to show that you will do what the group does.”
“Does the word peer pressure or flock of sheep come to mind at all, Stan?”
“I’m not saying that it’s a smart thing. I’m not even saying that it isn’t at all levels one of the stupidest things in our society. All I’m saying is that that is how things are done as part of a group, and that it is something that you will probably never quite get because you are one of the few teenagers who doesn’t need to be a part of something. You feel perfectly fine in your own skin and you don’t need the group. That’s all I’m saying, Jon.”
“I have you and Greg. Isn’t that enough?”
“Some people would think that that is vaguely gay, Jon.”
“That’s why I went on a date with Aleisha!” Jon grinned and arched his eyebrows.
Nicolas made his move. He stood up quickly and made a beeline for Jon and Stan. He stood behind the duo.
“Hey, Nick, what’s up?” Stan asked.
“Stan, are you with him?” Moss asked.
Jon put up his hands, as if in surrender. “We were only joking about vaguely gay, we aren’t really.”
Moss was not amused. “Jon-“ he warned.
Mills looked around to see if anyone else was listening. The rest of the group was laughing, joking, paying no attention to the three of them. “Speak clearly, Moss. What do you mean? No more of this code are you with him crap.”
“You want to know what happened to Jake Spencer, don’t you?”
Jon and Stan exchanged glances. “Don’t we all?”
“You want me to cut the crap? You cut it too. Talk to Dutton.” Moss turned and walked out the door.
Jon turned in his seat and called after Moss, but as he did so, Coach Malone entered the room.
“Let’s watch some game film, people!” he yelled as he clapped his hands and rubbed them together.